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Essential Tools For Managing Small Teams

Essential Tools For Managing Small Teams

Product development processes can differ drastically depending upon the size of the team involved. Small teams have a different set of challenges, thus different needs compared to bigger teams in an enterprise setting. They develop a tightly integrated environment, allowing them to be more agile than larger teams. Also, they can customize their processes easily without much conflict, as they have the added benefit of making their own decisions.

Larger teams, on the other hand, do not suffer from bus factor issues as much as smaller teams do. They have battle-tested yet rigid processes in place for everything, and have a larger pool of talent at disposal. Naturally, the differences between how these two kinds of teams operate requires them to use a different set of tools. This article focuses on some of the essential tools for managing small teams.

Communication

This is one of the most important factors that makes working in a small team worthwhile. Businesses have used email for official communication for a very long time now. While email still serves its purpose very well, tools like Slack are a better alternative for real-time collaboration.

For teams that want an open-sourced option, Mattermost and Zulip provide most of the features of Slack. Where these options fall short is with add-ons, as Slack has an application platform built-in. While Mattermost and Zulip also support integrations, the API that is exposed to such integrations is more limited.

Letting a small team have their own private communication platform enables them to use whatever add-ons they want. This freedom allows smaller teams to customize their workflow for maximum efficiency. Understandably, this is not possible in larger teams, where things are more rigid.

Issue Trackers and Feature Management

Both small and large teams have specific requirements for issue trackers and managing features. While Jira and Youtrack can work fine for small teams, tools like Zenhub and Codetree can provide a simpler interface. These platforms still have all the features relevant to small teams but reduces the clutter of the larger programs.

Small teams should aim to keep workflow as tightly integrated as possible. These tools integrate directly into Github, making them a perfect fit for the most efficient teams. Rather than struggling with the tool itself, the team can focus on getting work done. For teams that want an independent solution, Trello is fantastic alternative for Kanban style project management.

Idea Management

While issue trackers and project management tools are necessary for structured planning, idea management tools help at a moment’s notice. Specifically, they cater more to the immediate and intermediary stages in the thought process of a team. Evernote, Google Keep, and Microsoft OneNote are good choices for taking notes that include rich media. Evernote even includes handwriting recognition for searching in hand-written notes, which comes in handy for taking quick notes in meetings.

Deeply nested lists are a good way to capture a thought process in layers. Workflowy and Dynalist allow making a bottom-up tree structure to store data. These tools also provide the ability to share notes and points with other users privately, or publicly via public URLs.

Learning management

Any team management infrastructure is incomplete without a learning management solution. Whether it is for new employees learning how to work in the field or for existing members updating their skillsets, a learning management solution is a must. Most LMS solutions, like TalentLMS, enable managers to keep track of their team members’ learning progress and learning paths. It also allows them to provide an assessment and fix any issues with the learning process.

In an enterprise setting, LMS are typically managed by dedicated teams that can create custom courses for smaller teams. Teams can even use 3rd party courses provided by an educational institute or a service like Pluralsight. These provide training as well as assessment and mentorship for IT, Design, and DevOps training.

Continuous Integration

Large teams typically have dedicated sub-teams that manage piecing together work done by other teams as well as managing releases. Unfortunately, a lot of this work is usually done manually. Smaller teams have the convenience of automating most of their deployment workflow because it does not depend on external factors. An important part of that process is Continuous Integration.

A Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) platform like TravisCI, or CircleCI can run automated test suites and deploy to targets. Tools like Code Climate and CodeCov can perform code coverage, technical debt and static/style analysis and report on errors. This is all before the code moves onto a git repository. Some tools like AccessList even provide specialty checks like testing for accessibility issues in the HTML code. Other tools like Poeditor provide localization management with integrations to Github for easy access.

Targeted and efficient product development requires breaking up tasks into smaller units dividing them up for smaller teams. These teams do one thing and do it well. Large organizations are recognizing the benefits this kind of setup brings with it and are gravitating towards it more often. We are going to see a lot of new tools in the future, specifically targeted for smaller, more specialized teams.

Photo courtesy of Pexels user Rawpixel.com

Anand Srinivasan

Consultant & Entrepreneur, Essential Tools For Managing Small Teams
Expert in Cloud and Network Consulting